Got the series set on record, @jenniferlogue ! Channel 19 for Comcast users (44 for others) midnight 6/8!!!! Check it out Philly!!! #rockonphilly #proudbff
The Hesitant Betrothed by Auguste Toulmouche (1866)
I have always adored this painting. Having the central female figure stare with awareness at her viewer is a very powerful move, and something not often given to women in paintings. It creates an engagement with the viewer, she sees you and she knows you are watching her. She is no longer an object in an image, she is a person.
This is super, super rare in anything other than a close-up portrait, and even then the gaze is likely to be focused somewhere vaguely behind the viewer’s head. This woman is staring right at you, and she doesn’t particularly find what she sees to be impressive.
Her expression is not so much hesitant as it is direct and deadpan-defiant. She’s in this position not by her choice and not by her preference, it’s something she has to do and go through with, but she is absolutely not going to pretend she’s excited or enthusiastic even if her lack of a smile makes you, the viewer, uncomfortable. It’s a small, passive but present act of defiance against expectations and rules. It’s agency, just for a moment, but in that moment she has the power to affect your experience.
And so the viewer has to map that unimpressed, flat stare from “she’s refusing to behave the way she should be behaving!” to “she’s…shy! That’s the ticket, silly shy women all being hesitant and requiring to be led, that’s why she’s not smiling.” The world settles back into its accustomed tracks, she may safely be dismissed again, and life goes on.
Thus the painting’s title.